Reform Judaism magazine - World's Largest Circulated Jewish Magazine 1st Place Award Winner for Excellence in Jewish Journalism and a Benefit of Membership in a Union Congregation

The Jewish Ethics Challenge
Rabbi Arthur Gross Schaefer. Take this quiz to gauge how your values compare with important Jewish considerations and explore strategies for ethical decision-making. Winter 1997.


The Jewish Ethics Challenge: Where Do You Stand?

By Arthur Gross Schaefer

"Who am I?" and "what do I value?" are sophisticated interrelated questions that deeply affect the decisions we make. Like a mirror placed before us, our closely-held beliefs and our personal ethical values are revealed in the many judgments and actions we take. Yet, we rarely take time to seriously consider the values that inform and motivate our behaviors. We should gaze at our reflection in light of our conduct and earnestly ask:

What ethical values do we use when making decisions? Are they consistent with our obligations as Jews? How can Jewish values guide us in making tough decisions?

Take the Ethics Challenge and see how your values compare with important Jewish considerations. Certainly, the cases presented do not provide all the information you would normally require when making a hard decision. And yes, the choice selection is limited. However, if you answer the questions truthfully and then look at "The Answers", you will be able to gauge your answers in relation to Jewish tradition. Finally, please be honest.

(Please circle the answer which most closely reflects what you might do in the given situation.)

  1. You are being introduced to someone who may become an important contact for you. The person making the introduction describes how you planned a particularly outstanding event. In fact, you were a minor member of the planning committee and had little to do with the project's success. Do you:

    1. Remain silent

    2. Act modestly and convey that others greatly assisted in making the project work so well

    3. Acknowledge that you were merely a member of the committee

    4. Admit that you actually had little to do with the project's achievement

  2. You are taking a youth group to an amusement park, and know that there is a substantially reduced price for children under 12. While the members of the youth group all look young, you are aware that some are over 12. Do you:

    1. Order reduced children's tickets for all the children

    2. Request children's tickets for all those under 12 and adult tickets for all those who are 12 and older

    3. Tell the ticket person that you are from a temple youth group, and while some of the children are over 12, you would certainly appreciate it if he/she would let you buy the reduced children's tickets for all the kids

    4. Ask for a reduced children's ticket for most of the youth group except for the two or three children who look older

  3. You are selling your car. A prospective buyer offers you $4,500 and, while you would like $5,500, you verbally accept the offer. A few minutes later, before anything is put in writing, another prospective buyer arrives and offers $5,500. Do you:

    1. Sell the car to the first buyer

    2. Ask the first buyer to match the new offer

    3. Tell the first buyer that, while you are going to accept the higher offer, you are going to split the extra money and give him/her $500

    4. Accept the higher offer of $5,500

  4. You have developed many deep friendships in your chavurah. While there has always been tension between some of the members and one of your closest friends in the group, you have never taken sides and have remained friendly to everyone. Now, however, the tension has increased. A majority of the members want your friend ejected from the chavurah for no particular reason. Do you:

    1. Distance yourself from the friend and keep silent

    2. Privately offer support to your friend

    3. Publicly support your friend

    4. Privately offer support and speak to some of the chavurah members to find a peaceful resolution

  5. As you are walking down the street, you see a woman seated on a blanket holding a sign which reads, "I need money for food." A basket with some loose change is in front. Do you:

    1. Decide that she's drug-free, then give her money

    2. Put money into her basket without questioning her character or motives

    3. Walk on but make sure to donate funds to the local food bank

    4. Walk by without stopping

  6. You sold your piano and agreed to be paid over time. After the first two payments, the buyer calls to tell you he was just fired from his job. Desperate, he asks if he can return the piano at his expense and receive a refund to pay his rent. You are financially well-off and would have no difficulty returning his money, but you know it will be a hassle to resell the piano. Do you:

    1. Take the piano back and refund his money, less the cost of reselling the piano

    2. Take back the piano and refund all the money

    3. Refuse the request and demand that he continue to make timely payments

    4. Tell him to resell the piano himself

  7. At a party with a group of friends, someone tells a seemingly "harmless" racial joke. Everyone laughs. You are offended. Do you:

    1. Laugh with everyone else

    2. Say nothing and not laugh

    3. Announce to the group you believe racial jokes to be offensive and immoral

    4. Tell the joke-teller privately that racial jokes offend you.

  8. You are a member of a temple board which is debating the need to renovate the main temple bathroom to accommodate people with disabilities. There is not enough money in the temple's building fund to pay for the work and get the permit. Therefore, most of the board members want to proceed with the renovation without the permit. Do you:

    1. Argue that it is against the law not to get a permit, but agree to go along with the majority view

    2. State that such an action is illegal and you will not be a party to an illegal agreement

    3. State that it is essential to have a permit and that you will help raise the extra money necessary for it.

    4. Agree to have the renovation done without a permit

  9. You are making a structural part for an aircraft. Because production has taken longer than expected, there is insufficient time to test the part and meet the delivery date. The supervisor tells you that the part was properly made and that he/she is taking all responsibility. You then communicate with a vice president of the company, who assures you that your suspicions are baseless and the tests are only perfunctory. Do you:

    1. Do nothing more

    2. Inform the buyer of the aircraft

    3. Go over the vice president's head and disclose your apprehensions to higher company officials

    4. Put a memo in the files listing your concerns

  10. Your synagogue is in the midst of a major building campaign. A known slumlord wishes to contribute. At the temple board meeting, a debate ensues regarding whether the money should be accepted. Do you:

    1. Vote to reject the money

    2. Vote to accept the money

    3. Vote to accept the money only if the donor is listed as "anonymous"

    4. Vote to accept the money if it can be earmarked for a tzedakah project to benefit the needy

  11. You prefer to buy a very good product made in a foreign country. Compared to American standards, however, the working conditions are poor and the compensation is very low. Do you:

    1. Decide not to buy the product

    2. Decide not to buy the product and send a letter of protest to the company

    3. Decide not to buy the product and enlist others in a boycott and letter-writing campaign

    4. Buy the product

Now, review "The Answers, Please", and "A Suggested Strategy for Ethical Decision Making".

Arthur Gross Schaefer is a professor of business law and ethics at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, CA and rabbi of the Ojai Jewish Community. He developed the Eleven Core Jewish Values and the Strategy for Ethical Decision Making for the UAHC Ethics Committee, drawing upon sources from the Josephson Institute for the Advancement of Ethics, Effective Decision Making in the Trenches, Case Studies in Business, Society and Ethics (Beauchamp), and Business Ethics, Concepts and Cases (Valasquez).


Union for Reform Judaism.